How An Unknown Chris Tucker Nabbed His Role In Friday

Since its release in 1995, "Friday" has proven to be a cult classic. Shortly after the film's release, one-liners and jokes from the unexpected hit were a regular occurrence in adolescent conversation. I can't tell you how many times I heard "And you know this, man!" or "You got knocked the f*** out!" throughout my time in middle school and high school. Not to mention that iconic lean accompanied by a dramatic "Damn!" If you know anyone in their 30s or 40s, mention these quotes to them, and watch the magic happen. Chances are, your friend will repeat the line back to you in the excited, high-pitched tone of Chris Tucker. If they don't, you might want to rethink your choice of friends. 

We have Chris Tucker, an unknown standup comic before this role, to blame for permanently searing these quotes into the brains of '90s kids. His trademark voice, mixed with the energy of a toddler stuck inside all day, makes the character unforgettable. It's almost impossible for any "Friday" fan to imagine anyone else in the role, but The New York Times revealed that Tucker had some heavy-hitting competition. Chris Rock and Tommy Davidson, both popular, recognizable comedians at the time, wanted the role and were the obvious choice over an unknown comedian. But Tucker was the right man for the job and he proved it. 

He had star power

"Friday" only had a budget of $3.5 million, which is peanuts compared to the typical major blockbuster cost of $65 million. The humor and originality of the story still drew the interest of well-known actors who could have pulled off the role of Smokey, but "Friday" director, F. Gary Gray wanted Tucker. According to The New York Times, Gray "fought for Mr. Tucker over actors who were better known at the time." He believed Tucker had the necessary spark to set the role on fire, an "innate star quality," and it seems time has proven him right. 

Despite its humble beginnings, "Friday" grossed $27 million, spawned three sequels, and lived rent-free in the heads of '90s kids for decades. Tucker can't be given all the credit for the success of "Friday," but he is easily the movie's most memorable character, which is impressive when you consider that he shared the screen with legendary comedian and actor John Witherspoon. The role of Smokey earned Tucker three MTV Movie Award nominations, and while that sounds not so impressive now, they were kind of a big deal in the '90s. Again, ask an older friend if you're confused.

After the success of "Friday," Tucker would prove Gray's instincts correct. Throughout the 2000s, he starred in "The Fifth Element" and the "Rush Hour" franchise with Jackie Chan. At one point, he became the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.

His ability to improvise

Although he eventually made himself at home in the role, the fast-talking, weed-loving Smokey wasn't always an easy role for Tucker. In fact, he bombed his first audition. 

In an interview with Complex, casting director Kim Hardin described the first time Tucker read for the role as "horrible." She explained, "at the time [Tucker] didn't know that comedians [could] improv" during auditions. He tried to stick to the script and it just did not work for him. When he found out he could use the same off-the-cuff improvisational humor he used in his stand-up, Tucker came back for a second audition and won the role. 

In Gray's New York Times interview, the director said that "[Tucker's] audition was just O.K., it wasn't great, but his ability to improvise was unmatched." 

The movies' tight budget meant the film had to be completed quickly, so the production only lasted 20 days, but Gray used each and every one of them to his advantage. He believed in Tucker's improv abilities, and whenever he could afford extra shots, he allowed Tucker to take the character wherever he wanted, saying "he was brilliant." Those instincts paid off, and "Friday" continues to be one of the best comedies of the '90s.